Obesity bias in training: attitudes, beliefs, and observations among advanced trainees in professional health disciplines

Obesity (Silver Spring). 2014 Apr;22(4):1008-15. doi: 10.1002/oby.20637. Epub 2013 Dec 4.


Objective: This study examined weight bias among students training in health disciplines and its associations with their perceptions about treating patients with obesity, causes of obesity, and observations of weight bias by instructors and peers.

Methods: Students (N = 107) enrolled in a post-graduate health discipline (Physician Associate, Clinical Psychology, Psychiatric Residency) completed anonymous questionnaires to assess the above variables.

Results: Students reported that patients with obesity are a common target of negative attitudes and derogatory humor by peers (63%), health-care providers (65%), and instructors (40%). Although 80% of students felt confident to treat obesity, many reported that patients with obesity lack motivation to make changes (33%), lead to feelings of frustration (36%), and are non-compliant with treatment (36%). Students with higher weight bias expressed greater frustration in these areas. The effect of students' weight bias on expectations for treatment compliance of patients with obesity was partially mediated by beliefs that obesity is caused by behavioral factors.

Conclusions: Weight bias is commonly observed by students in health disciplines, who themselves report frustrations and stereotypes about treating patients with obesity. These findings contribute new knowledge about weight bias among students and provide several targets for medical training and education.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Bias
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Data Collection
  • Female
  • Frustration
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Health Personnel / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Obesity / psychology*
  • Obesity / therapy
  • Patient Compliance
  • Perception
  • Regression Analysis
  • Students / psychology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Training Support
  • Treatment Outcome